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Prepare this sweet in advance for a sweet day

Recipe: Chocolate-dipped orange refrigerator cookies -- need we say more?

Three cookies on a blue plate
The finished cookies: Dipped in dark chocolate
and sprinkled with, clockwise from lower right,
orange zest, pink sugar and sea salt. Pink
and white sprinkles or chocolate shavings
would be an option for Valentine's Day. (Photos:
Kathy Morrison)

Oranges and chocolate chips
I admit it: I love being able to pick oranges right off my
backyard tree to use in baking.


While most eyes today are on a certain football game, I'm looking ahead to next Sunday, Valentine's Day. The week ahead is going to be busy, so it's nice to be able to prepare a sweet treat ahead.

This lovely little shortbread-type cookie gets its big flavor from orange zest and juice. Oranges are in season in Northern California, not strawberries, so oranges should be featured more in February, I think. (Oh, sure, strawberries look like hearts, but where are they coming from at this time of year?)

And of course chocolate is so much a part of Valentine's Day. I just had to find a recipe that used both chocolate and oranges.

This cookie, which I adapted slightly from one on Sally's Baking Addiction ,  fills the bill. It has orange zest and juice in the cookie, a hint of cinnamon, a dark chocolate half-coating after baking and a sprinkle of more zest (if desired) at the end. Alternative sprinkles -- pink sugar! sea salt! -- are suggested.

The best part: It's a refrigerator cookie, so the dough can be mixed, rolled into logs and chilled (or even frozen) until it's time to bake. If you plan to mix and bake on the same day, allow plenty of time for chilling -- or do like I did and freeze the logs immediately, but remove them before they're frozen solid. (There's a lot of butter in there, and the dough gets hard.) Or chill one log to bake soon and freeze the other for another time.

A note about the chocolate for dipping: I like to use chocolate chips, but they are engineered to harden after baking. When melted, they resolidify quickly. Adding some vegetable shortening prevents this, yet the chocolate still gets nice and firm on the cookie, especially if chilled afterwards. A baking or eating chocolate bar that's been chopped and melted generally doesn't require anything added, but use what you're comfortable with. Even white chocolate is an option, though it is pretty sweet. Or let your cookies go bare!

Orange zested
One medium orange yields a little more than
1 teaspoon grated zest.
Chocolate-dipped orange refrigerator cookies

Makes 24-36, depending on size of refrigerator rolls

Ingredients:

3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature (don't melt it in the microwave!)

2/3 cup light brown sugar

1 egg, room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

Zest from 1 medium orange (about 1 teaspoon), plus more for sprinkling, if desired

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

For dipping:

2/3 cup dark chocolate chips

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

Sprinkling options: Grated orange zest, pink decorating sugar, coarse white sugar, coarse or fine sea salt, sprinkles or chocolate shavings

Dough logs wrapped in plastic and foil
The floured dough logs are wrapped in plastic before
chilling. Add a layer of foil if freezing them.

Instructions:

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the brown sugar and beat together until creamy and fluffy.  Beat in the egg and vanilla extract at high speed until fully combined.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon and salt. Add the flour mixture about 1/3 at a time to the butter mixture,  at medium speed, thoroughly mixing each time. Stir in the zest and orange juice.

Flour a work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Flour your hands and divide the dough into two halves, approximately, and roll into logs with the same diameter (anywhere from 1 inch to 2-1/2 inches, as long as they're the same). The logs will be well-floured. Wrap in plastic wrap (and foil if you're planning to freeze it) and chill at least 4 hours, or freeze. If you're doing a quick freeze like I did, put the logs in the coldest spot possible; they should be firm enough to slice in about 30 minutes.

When ready to bake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare baking pans with parchment paper. Using a sharp knife, cut the logs into slices of equal thickness. (Mine were just under 1/2-inch thick.) Place the slices on the parchment paper, about 2 inches apart, and bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edge are just starting to brown.

Cookie dough slices on pan
The dough is sliced and ready to go in the oven. Form the slices
back into circles if they've gotten a little flat on one side
while chilling.

Remove the pan(s) and let it cool on a rack for at least 5 minutes, then slide the paper and cookies off onto the cooling rack to cool completely. The paper become the drip catcher for the soon-to-be dipped cookies.

When the cookies are cool, put the chips and shortening together in a small, deep bowl and zap in the microwave until completely melted and smooth. (You might have to stir it halfway through.)

One at a time, dip the cookies halfway into the chocolate, let the excess chocolate drip off, and place back on the paper. Then sprinkle with your choice of zest,  zest and salt, or just salt, or just sugar, or whatever else sounds good. A fork works best with the zest, I found.

Place the cookies in the refrigerator briefly to set the chocolate. (Tip: Slide a rimless baking sheet under the parchment paper to make the cookies easy to move.) The cookies should stay fresh, covered, for a week at room temperature or in the frig -- assuming they last that long.






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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Sept. 25

This week's warm break will revive summer crops such as peppers and tomatoes that may still be trying to produce fruit. Pumpkins and winter squash will add weight rapidly.

Be on the lookout for powdery mildew and other fungal diseases that may be enjoying this combination of warm air and moist soil.

* Late September is ideal for sowing a new lawn or re-seeding bare spots.

* Compost annuals and vegetable crops that have finished producing.

* Cultivate and add compost to the soil to replenish its nutrients for fall and winter vegetables and flowers.

* Plant for fall now. The warm soil will get cool-season veggies and flowers off to a fast start.

* Plant onions, lettuce, peas, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, bok choy, spinach and potatoes directly into the vegetable beds.

* Transplant lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.

* Sow seeds of California poppies, clarkia and African daisies.

* Transplant cool-weather annuals such as pansies, violas, fairy primroses, calendulas, stocks and snapdragons.

* Divide and replant bulbs, rhizomes and perennials.

* Dig up and divide daylilies as they complete their bloom cycle.

* Divide and transplant peonies that have become overcrowded. Replant with "eyes" about an inch below the soil surface.

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